The 1st Battalion fights through
The 1st Battalion had no better fortune. Under Lieutenant-Colonel D. T. Dobie, D.S.O., it moved off down the railway in an easterly direction following the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. ” R ” Company soon ran into opposition at a road junction north of the village of Wolfhezen and here a confused and desperate battle took place. The enemy were well posted on high wooded ground, and the battalion’s casualties began to mount, until half ” R ” Company were killed or wounded. The remainder pressed on, and soon afterwards encountered five German tanks and fifteen half-track vehicles. They could go no farther without coping with these and settled down to do so. Spasmodic but fierce fighting continued all that evening and at intervals throughout the night. “It was impossible,” says Lieutenant Williams, “to make any headway. There were snipers in the woods on both sides.” What had happened was that the 2nd Battalion had preceded them along the same route earlier that afternoon, and the Germans, having been reinforced, had closed in behind them. There was very heavy opposition and there were snipers in practically every house. Individually the Germans were good, but as a body they were bad. “They weren’t any good at tactics and made far more use of automatic weapons than rifles.”
At first light on the 18th Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie received information that the 2nd Battalion was at the bridge and urgently needed reinforcements. He decided to disengage his troops if he could, by-pass the enemy to the south, and move on towards the bridge. An attack by ” S ” Company on the left flank temporarily drove the enemy back with casualties, and the battalion pressed on a little farther, having by that time picked up the Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion. The fight presently shifted to some houses and a factory strongly held by the enemy near a railway bridge and a cross-roads at Mariendaal, a little suburb to the north-west of Arnhem. Here the battle raged all the morning, a first attack by ” T ” Company at nine o’clock being moderately successful, but a second attack on the factory failing because of the heavy fire of German twenty-mm: guns shooting northwards from the river bank. At this juncture Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson of the Light Regiment arrived and directed the fire of the seventy-five-mm. and the anti-tank guns, which were used with great effect against a pill-box in the factory. It received a direct hit and its fire was silenced. In all these engagements, or more accurately in this one long continuous struggle, heavy casualties were sustained by the enemy.
All that afternoon and evening the 1st Battalion tried to press forward, and did eventually reach the St. Elizabeth Hospital. By 6.30 p.m. its Commanding Officer was in touch with the 2nd Battalion, still holding the bridge and still urgently demanding reinforcements. By then his command was reduced to approximately a hundred men and there was hardly any ammunition. This deficit was presently remedied by the arrival of the remains of ” R ” Company, who had joined up with the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment, and a plan was made to rush forward to the bridge at nine p.m. At eight p.m., however, the news came that the bridge had been overrun and the attack was put off.
Thus did the three gallant battalions of the 1st Parachute Brigade struggle to fulfil their tasks in the first vital forty-eight hours. The 2nd succeeded, for it reached and held the bridge though the conditions in which it did so increased in difficulty with every hour. The other two made determined but mostly vain efforts to reach their hard-pressed comrades; but the main design on which the success of the operation principally depended had not been achieved. The semicircle round the bridge had not been formed and did not exist.